As North Korea wages a “battle for manure” across the country, some regions are pressuring individuals and families to cough up money if they fail to fulfill their quota. This is apparently adding to the pain suffered by North Koreans struggling with economic troubles amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province, the “battle” commenced on Dec. 3 and will last until Jan. 10 — one day longer than last year’s struggle.

Workers at factories and enterprises have been tasked with providing 500 kilograms of manure per person, while inminban (people’s units) have been tasked with providing 200 kilograms per household. This represents no great increase from last year, but it is still a lot compared to years before that, when workers were expected to provide only 100 to 300 kilograms per person.

This suggests the increased quotas are a measure to deal with the suspension of fertilizer imports after the Sino-North Korean border was closed due to COVID-19.

North Korean workers
North Korean workers distributing manure for use as fertilizer in this photo from January 2015. / Image: Uriminzokkiri

North Korean authorities may have also considered how experiments last year to produce more fertilizer at the country’s chemical factories yielded little but deadly explosions. That is, they may have concluded that the solution to their problems lies in traditional manure.

The measure also appears aimed at imprinting on the party, people and military the importance of the rural development goals adopted during the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee, convened late last year.

On Monday, an article in the Rodong Sinmun on intensive efforts to transport thousands of tons of manure in South Hwanghae Province in the new year called on people to take ownership of achieving the basic tasks of the party’s rural development strategy.

In fact, the authorities are apparently generating an atmosphere of “competition” to achieve those tasks. Various organization directors, heads of neighborhood offices, and other officials in charge are focused on fulfilling their quotas, afraid that units that fall behind will face “thorough review.”

Accordingly, it is the people who are bearing the burden. Cadres are protecting themselves by ordering families to pay KWP 1,000 per every kilogram of manure they fall short.

Naturally, this is generating complaints and discontent. The source said even though North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered an end to “non-tax burdens,” he has seemingly revived them with his order to develop rural communities. He added that it was the government’s job to break this vicious cycle.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.